Choosing Heart Healthy Cooking Oils

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Previously published on Answers.com.

When following a low cholesterol diet, avoiding the saturated fat common in red meat and dairy, and the trans-fat rampant in fried food and commercially bought baked goods is vital. But as these same unhealthy fats also appear in some – but not all – cooking oils, it’s important to know what’s in your cooking oil.

There are three key strategies when choosing heart healthy cooking oils: avoid the ‘bad’ oils, choose oils that actually help reduce cholesterol, and choose heart-healthy cooking methods.

Do: Cook using as little oil as possible.

Choose cooking preparations that require as little oil as possible, such as grilling, broiling and steaming. If you are sauteing, choose liquid vegetable oils (details below), or non-fat cooking sprays in a non-stick pan. If you must have that butter flavor, try a small pat melted in olive oil.

Do: Choose cooking oils low in saturated and trans-fats.

The cooking oils you use at home make a difference. The American Heart Association recommends choosing oils where the first listed ingredient is vegetable oil.  Or said differently, choose plant-based oils that are low in saturated fat like olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, sesame oil, and soybean oil.

These oils differ in both the taste they can impart on your cooking and also ‘smoke point’ – meaning some oils are better for lower-heat cooking and some for higher-heat cooking. The Cleveland Clinic’s Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101 has a handy grid that’s a terrific guide to the fat level, taste and smoke point of many cooking oils.

Do: Select cooking oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The American Heart Association’s Healthy Cooking Oils is also an excellent resource, complete with cooking tips. The site lists five oils and their uses; here are highlights from three favorite, heart-healthy oils:

  • Canola Oil imparts very little flavor and is recommended for sauteing, baking, frying and marinating. It also contains low-levels of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce cholesterol.
  • Olive Oil varies in flavor (extra virgin has more flavor – and similar calories – to ‘light’) and is great for grilling, sautéing, roasting, and home-made salad dressings. Also dipping bread in olive oil is a delicious and far healthier choice than slathering on butter.
  • Grapeseed Oil has a neutral flavor, a profile similar to olive oil in that it is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fat, and is a good source of vitamin E.

Don’t: Use oils high in saturated fats.

There are several cooking oils high in cholesterol-building saturated fats. Avoid coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil as these are high in saturated fat.

Don’t: Use healthy oils in unhealthy cooking styles.

Choosing a heart-healthy oil to then cook in un-heart-healthy ways (like deep-frying) is fine every once in a while, but it’s far healthier to adjust to more heart-healthy cooking styles.

Conclusion

If you cook a lot at home, choosing your cooking oil is probably just as important as choosing a low-fat protein source. Eliminating oils high in saturated fats in favor of monounsaturated fats like olive and canola oil can help keep a low-cholesterol diet on track. And adding monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils that also deliver heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids – like walnut oil and flaxseed oil – to low/no-heat dishes like salad dressing or marinades can even help lower cholesterol.

Tip

Walnut oil has a nutty taste and provides cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. Its medium smoke point means it’s not great for cooking, but walnut oil is terrific in a home-made salad dressing instead of – or in addition to – extra virgin olive oil.

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